The way forward: 3 things schools across the world need to focus on to ensure student success during a time of uncertainty

Aug 04, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented changes to education around the world, impacting more than 1.5 billion students from preschool through higher-ed. In March 2020, almost all of the world’s schools closed, causing millions of children to lose formal access to learning. The closure of schools has tested the readiness and capacity of education systems around the world to maintain student engagement and learning.

As governments plan to reopen schools and seek to develop the best possible solutions for students to resume their education, there are numerous factors they have to consider and decisions they have to take: Will students learn in-person or online? Will they use a hybrid of in-person and remote learning? How will students practice social distancing in class? When answering these questions, they need to ensure that the learning and development of students is not compromised. The current generation of students represent the next generation of leaders, and it is necessary to ensure that they are able to access a high quality of education and stay on track with their learning even during these uncertain times, which can be done by stressing the following three ideas:

  • The importance of the classroom
    Historically, education has been all about the classroom. The classroom is where students learn, socialize and transform. The classroom has always been considered as the place where ideas are born, leaders are formed, and geniuses are discovered. The social and interactive environment that classrooms provide is conducive to the mental development of students. In the classroom, students don’t just learn what they are taught, they learn how to collaborate, ask questions, engage in discussions, and most importantly, develop relationships. If students are forced to resort to only remote learning, they lose the sense of interaction and collaboration that classrooms provide, which is a huge part of education. Therefore, even though it may seem risky, it is essential for schools to keep the classroom a part of students’ learning as they have been for so many decades. If proper and strict social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines are implemented and followed, the risk of learning in a classroom setting can be reduced exponentially. This is not to say that remote learning should not be used, but that a hybrid model needs to be implemented in secondary schools, where students learn both remotely and, in the classroom, to ensure that they continue to learn and develop as individuals while mitigating the spread of infection

  • Technology for everyone
    One of the main things that the closure of schools following the Coronavirus outbreak has revealed is that there is a huge divide between students globally and that access to the technology required for remote learning is not ubiquitous. Not all students across the world can afford to buy a laptop, and then learn how to operate it. Therefore, it is imperative that schools across the world take steps to provide students with access to the technology they need. However, this is easier said than done. While students living in Western countries might take this for granted because of the high amount of funding that their schools receive, students in poorer countries, especially in Asia and Africa, do not have access to the same level of technology. Most schools in these areas are government-operated and severely underfunded. Here, the government needs to act to provide students with the technology and resources they need for remote learning. Most of these schools already operate on a low-cost structure, so it is possible for governments to give laptops to students for free, or allow them to rent it for a small cost until the COVID situation in their area gets better normal in-person instruction returns. When students have access to the technology they need, they will be much more productive and not fall behind in their learning. Besides helping students in the current remote learning scenario, early access to technology will also prepare students from poorer countries for the future as the importance of technology across the world grows.

  • A focus on student mental health
    The closure of schools because of the Coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a level of social isolation for students that they have never experienced before. Students have not only had to adapt to an entirely new form of learning, but are also not able to socialize and interact with their friends, and “enjoy” school. Students’ familiar routines have been severely disrupted and they are feeling disengaged from their peers. In a global survey by Premise Data, the number of young adults aged 16 to 18 who felt “frequently” lonely increased from 30% to 46% in March and to 50% in April. When students are struggling with their mental health, they will not be able to focus on their education and their holistic development will be impacted. Therefore, it is necessary for schools to implementing counseling and student support programs to help students cope during these unfamiliar circumstances. This is especially true for low-income countries, where there is little awareness about student mental health, and the concerns of students about their emotional well-being tend to go ignored. Schools across the world need to take actionable steps to ensure that students’ mental health needs are addressed, and can do so in the following ways:

    • Educating students about mental health: Schools need to ensure that students are aware of symptoms associated with mental health problems so that they can seek help when needed. Many students across the world do not understand when they are going through depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. Schools should help students understand that these issues are as important as their physical health, and should not be ignored by students.

    • Educating students about mental health: Schools need to ensure that students are aware of symptoms associated with mental health problems so that they can seek help when needed. Many students across the world do not understand when they are going through depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. Schools should help students understand that these issues are as important as their physical health, and should not be ignored by students.

    • Removing the stigma around mental health: In many countries across the world, mental health is looked down upon and not given the importance that it deserves. Students in particular are told to keep their feelings to themselves and not worry about mental health problems. Schools, therefore, should work to ensure that parents take care of their kids’ mental health and that students’ mental health concerns are heard.

    • Establish basic counseling services: Having someone to talk to goes a long way in dealing with mental health issues and can help students get started on the road to recovery. Schools should establish counseling services and employ faculty trained in mental health to ensure that students have a reliable source of help that they can reach out to.

Times of crisis such as these require critical thinking and reevaluation of established methodologies. Even though the situation may be challenging, we cannot let students over the world fall behind on their education, and must reimagine schools and take the necessary steps to ensure that students can continue to learn and develop. By effectively incorporating both the classroom and technology in education, and providing students with adequate mental health resources, they need, schools will be able to ensure that students stay on track and are prepared for their future as the next generation of global leaders.